The Basics of Law

Law is the body of rules that a country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. It is a complex subject, with many different areas of study. Oxford Reference offers authoritative, encyclopedic coverage of the major concepts and topics in Law, including criminal and civil law; family and property law; contract law; and international and human rights law.

Law has many functions, four of which are principal: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The laws of a society are determined by its culture, history and political system. These factors influence the nature of the legal process, which may be formal or informal.

It is important for people to have confidence in the law. This requires that the law is clear, publicized, stable and applied evenly. The law should also be able to respond to changing social circumstances through interpretation and creative jurisprudence.

Blackstone said that judges are the “depositories of the law; living oracles, who must decide in all cases of doubt. They must be bound by oath to decide according to law.” A judge’s decision in one case may serve as a precedent in another case with similar facts and law. However, if the former determination is clearly contrary to reason it should not be followed. Precedents are often used in criminal cases.